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3/17/02


 

A SPEECH NOT GIVEN

By David Podvin

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I am voting to deny the confirmation of Judge Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court Of Appeals. I do so realizing that I am addressing a symptom, rather than the serious disease that it exposes.

The fact that a man with a record of ethnic bias has been seriously considered by this committee means that we are dealing with a much more profound problem than Judge Pickering’s bigotry.

There is a cancer in this chamber. It is called racism. Our Republican colleagues are guilty of practicing it. We Democrats have frequently been equally guilty of tolerating it. For the Senate and the country, the continued blatant prejudice that allows for the consideration of a bigot like Judge Pickering is a disgrace.

The Republicans on this committee have used diversionary tactics in a desperate effort to camouflage Judge Pickering’s record of racial hatred. They have done so because distorting the records of extremist judicial nominees has been an effective way for them to stock the federal bench with people who are hostile to African Americans.

Judge Pickering’s record of bigotry cannot be concealed with sleight of hand. There is no need to focus on his entire disgraceful segregationist history. All that an honorable person of good will needs to know is that Pickering first supported outlawing marriage between whites and blacks, then shortened the sentence of a man who burned a cross on the lawn of an interracial couple.

My Republican colleagues claim that Charles Pickering’s actions are consistent with being a good judge, which says more about them than it does about him.

It is troubling that my Democratic colleagues recoil in fear when they are accused of calling Judge Pickering a racist. We have arrived at a sad point in American history when there is a greater stigma attached to accurately identifying someone as a racist than in being one.

It is even more troubling that every Senate Republican, conservative and moderate alike, is enthusiastically and immorally willing to support a man who has a clear record of bigotry. While vigorously supporting him, they have deliberately smeared innocent African Americans whose only crime is wanting a federal court system that views them as being equal.

Senators Hatch and Grassley, among others, are scapegoating civil rights organizations for the defeat of this nominee. I ask the Republicans to try, if only this once, to empathize with the people who have been systematically excluded from fully participating in our democracy. Try to understand that they do not oppose Judge Pickering’s nomination out of malice, but in self-defense. My African American constituents have expressed concern about having yet another federal judge who is callously indifferent to them as human beings.

They are right to be concerned. The important difference between our nation and others is not the size of our economy, nor the strength of our military. The special thing about America is the ideal that all people are created equal.

The record clearly shows that Judge Pickering does not accept that ideal. He is therefore unfit to be confirmed.

No one wants to acknowledge the presence of virulent racism in the United States Senate. The Republicans, for obvious reasons, plead ignorance. While I understand my Democratic colleagues have a desire to maintain a pleasant working environment, the price of that harmony must no longer be the betrayal of Americans who are black.

African Americans are the most loyal constituency of our party. We have an obligation to represent them, not ignore them. This vote against Judge Pickering is a belated and encouraging step in the right direction. George W. Bush has a legal right to send bigots to this committee for confirmation. The Democrats on this committee have a moral obligation to send them back.

Not just this time.

Every time.

We are also morally obligated to deal with an unfortunate truth that we have been irresponsible in avoiding.

The truth is that the Republicans in the Senate have chosen as their leader a man who belongs to a group that claims slavery was a good thing. This travesty has gone unchallenged by our party and the media for far too long. It is a disgrace. Worse, it is consistent with the policies that the G.O.P. is promoting. It aligns with the refusal by the Republicans to support hate crime legislation. It dovetails with their unwillingness to cooperate in passing laws to prevent the voter fraud that was practiced against black citizens in Florida and elsewhere during the last election.

There is an old tradition in the Senate of deference towards one’s colleagues. It must now be subordinated to a new tradition of telling the truth, even when the truth makes people uncomfortable. The truth is that the Pickering nomination is just the most recent proof that the Republican Party does not treat African Americans as equal citizens.

It is a tragedy that, in the twenty first century, at least half of the United States Senate sees nothing wrong with a judge giving lenient treatment to bigots who burn a cross on an interracial couple’s lawn. If these Senators are truly representing the views of their constituents, then our nation has much bigger problems than we have been willing to admit.

This nomination shows how deeply ingrained racism is in the very fabric of our society. While there are many African Americans in our armed forces who are currently overseas defending this country, their relatives back home are still being subjected to racism so blatant that the president of the United States is shamelessly appointing bigots to serve on the federal bench.

As a nation, we have preferred to ignore the bitter reality of racism. It is time to summon the courage to deal with it. It is time to confront those who perpetuate it.

I am confident that this statement will be met by indignant denunciations from my Republican colleagues.  I am positive that they will be unable to dispute the facts.  I will accept their emotional personal attacks on me as their tacit admission that I have spoken the truth.

My constituents want federal judges who are faithful to the concept that all people are created equal. I will honor their principles and act accordingly.

It is with great pride that I vote to deny confirmation to Judge Charles Pickering.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

More David Podvin

Podvin, the Series

 


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